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Melo-to-Nets looks good, but Jersey should kick tires first

by | CBSSports.com Columnist
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It's been awhile since Carmelo Anthony has been noticed for anything other than the quality of the rumors he can spark. That's not the way you want to be remembered.

Then again, I get this overwhelming sense that it isn't going to get any better for him anytime soon. He wants New York, he's getting New Jersey, and the clock is still ticking.

In other words, he may never get what he wants -- relevance in the biggest market there is. And he may be running out of time to get it.

It's apparently going to take 15 players and three teams to make Anthony happy by freeing him from the cruel shackles of the Denver Nuggets, as Comrade Berger has so faithfully reported. He is so eager to leave that he is surrendering a sure playoff appearance for a sure non-playoff appearance, and there is no guarantee that the Nets will be that much closer to glory with him than without him.

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But you have to find your bliss where you can, and if Carmelo Anthony's bliss is in Newark/Brooklyn, then there you go.

I, though, have this nagging sense that he is moving too late, that the Nets are getting a sharp-looking car with a lot of miles under the hood, a splashy deal that won't make them a contender but will fill them with buyer's remorse for a good long time.

There are, after all, two levels of basketball -- the great player, and the great team, and very often the two are confused for each other. Anthony is a great player, but he's not so great that he can save the Nets from, well, continued Net-hood. And by the time he can, he's likely to have nearly 700 games and 25,000 minutes on his odometer.

Yes, he's 26, but he's a well-used 26, and he came from an era in which you stayed in college for as briefly as possible and then hit the wood for good. To see him in his current state of ability and energy for six more years is to burn with optimism's flame. In other words, his window of opportunity isn't nearly as wide open as someone of his chronological age would suggest, which behooves New Jersey to make no more roster mistakes between now and his retirement/next trade demand. And New Jersey doesn't exactly have that kind of track record.

Seven-year veteran Carmelo Anthony has 21,476 NBA game minutes -- and counting -- under the hood. (Getty Images)  
Seven-year veteran Carmelo Anthony has 21,476 NBA game minutes -- and counting -- under the hood. (Getty Images)  
Should the Nets not want him? Of course not. He is an elite player, even when his heart isn't entirely in it. But Anthony only does the Nets any good if they can rebuild the roster around him and quickly. And no, Chauncey Billups (34) and Richard Hamilton (32), who are supposed to come with Anthony in the latest incarnation of this deal, are not long-term solutions. Neither is Al Harrington (soon to be 30), whom the Nuggets also want to foist off on the Nets.

New Jersey might be falling prey not only to star-blindness, but to the illusion that finishing eighth in the Eastern Conference this year is a laudable goal. If you think the NFC West was bad (and you're right), get a load of teams six through 11 in the Eastern Conference.

History suggests that aiming low ensures you of finishing there, and delaying the kind of work that one needs to do to become a true factor in a top-heavy league like the NBA.

And yet, being eighth sure beats being 13th, which is where the Nets currently reside.

I guess what's being said here is this: Carmelo Anthony might not be Mr. Right in New Jersey, but he's Mr. Right Now, and whatever mileage he has left may as well be used on the Turnpike as anywhere else.

But don't be surprised if the Melo the Nets get is the Melo they've been dreaming of for a lot less time than they thought. This deal has that nagging feeling of a big splash in shallow water -- a trade only a fool would turn down, but a trade that will make everyone very cranky in a couple of years.

Besides, the Nets are only 2½ games behind Detroit in the fight for 12th. I feel good things coming on.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.com

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